Onas Bolton knew he wanted to use his background in organic chemistry to make a difference.
He worked at a large electroplating company, using chemicals to shine bumpers or place copper in the correct place on a circuit board, essentially controlling where and how the metals went. He was passionate about carbon neutrality and renewable energy, and he realized he could use his skills to solve a problem in battery technology.
Batteries will become increasingly important as the world moves away from a fuel-based economy, said Bolton, founder and CEO of Cleveland-based Octet Scientific Inc. Wind and solar energy must be stored somewhere.
Octet Scientific is a developer of specialty chemicals for long-lasting batteries, particularly zinc-based batteries. Zinc batteries are recyclable, durable and safe for the environment because the material is benign, Bolton said. It is readily available. Batteries can be water-based and non-flammable.
“So zinc has a lot going for it,” Bolton said.
This is why the material has long been used in everyday alkaline batteries. But the problem has always been recharging the zinc batteries. And this is the challenge that Octet Scientific is trying to meet.
Much of the world today relies on just a few battery technologies, Bolton said. Older vehicles use lead-acid batteries, he said, and electric vehicles and small appliances tend to use lithium-ion batteries.
“But we’re going to need a much more diverse amount of energy storage, and we think zinc-based batteries are a real answer for large-scale grid storage, basically any battery that doesn’t have to move,” Bolton said. .
Bolton realized that his knowledge of chemistry could apply to the problem of recharging zinc batteries because, as Bolton said, the problem is that the zinc doesn’t always go where it’s supposed to go during this process. Octet Scientific has developed chemicals to control zinc.
Bolton applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop these chemicals, which he received. The company was incorporated in 2017 and work began the following year.
Bolton was already living in northeast Ohio when he started Octet, but it makes sense that the physical product startup would have its roots in Cleveland, with its strong industrial history.
And business advocacy groups in the region were beneficial to the launch of Octet. Bolton said the first grant came “earlier than expected”. He was a scientist who suddenly also ran a business. He contacted groups such as JumpStart Inc., BRITE Energy Innovators and MAGNET for help.
Octet is still in pre-revenue and product development phase. It currently has two employees, and Bolton said he plans to increase that number to four this year, plus interns.
So far, the startup has received nearly $600,000 in state and federal grants, and it also recently received its first private investment.
The Gale Family Office investment will help fund activities that grants cannot cover, Bolton said. Grants are strictly defined and funds must be used within specific parameters. Private funding can help Octet reach customers whose products go beyond the grants they’ve received, Bolton said. It can also be earmarked for expenses such as sales and marketing or patent fees.
Bolton has been working with JumpStart’s mentorship program for about a year and a half, where he met Brian Gale.
Gale left her company, labeling product maker ID Images, in the summer of 2021 and formed the Gale Family Office. He declined to share the specific amount the office invested in Byte, but said it was a six-figure amount under half a million dollars. After the investment, Gale stepped down from the role of JumpStart mentor for Octet, but joined the company’s advisory board.
Gale said he was an early adopter of electric vehicles and is a proponent of battery technology. He said he believes zinc batteries have “unlimited potential” as the world moves towards renewable energy.
“Octet is already a leading voice in electrolyte development,” Gale said in a press release about the investment. “With new sources of funding, they will be able to continue working with manufacturers to optimize batteries, increase efficiency, extend life and increase capacity.”
The release says the investment will support Octet’s scaling activities throughout 2022 as the developer strives to become a manufacturer. The company’s chemicals are currently being tested at battery manufacturers in the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe and Australia.
Bolton said about 20 companies around the world have tested Octet’s compounds so far, and the company is constantly making new compounds.
It can be difficult for a physical product startup to attract investment dollars, Bolton said. The payback time for battery products is much longer than for something like software. While venture capital might not be the best solution for a company like his, Bolton said he’s seen more interest from chemical or manufacturing companies that understand how long it takes. to develop a product. He said he wishes more chemical companies had strong venture capital programs because they would better understand the process and timeline.
Bolton said he hopes Gale’s investment will lead a round the company wants to run throughout the year.